The valedictorian at a high school in Illinois is considering legal action after officials barred him from referencing God and Jesus during his graduation speech.
Sam Blackledge, 18, told Fox News’ Todd Starnes he was nearly brought to tears when West Prairie High School administrators asked him to censor the speech – in which he planned to thank God for his accomplishments – 10 minutes before presentation.
“I never felt that feeling before,” Blackledge said. “It was terrible. I felt like I wanted to cry. I had basically – for months – I knew I wanted to talk about Christ in my graduation speech. For that to be taken away…”
Blackledge, who maintained a 4.0 GPA, credits his faith for his academic success.
“The most important thing in my life is Christ,” he said. “Christ is the only reason I was a valedictorian. He’s the reason I got that 4.0. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be up there. I was giving Him the credit for that.”
He claims officials at the school wouldn’t budge on the issue.
“The principal told me it wasn’t appropriate for the setting,” Blackledge told Starnes.
“They said they didn’t want to make it a religious ceremony… They told me that if I took out Christ I could say everything else.”
Blackledge says he even tried to bargain with officials, but they feared his religious sentiments would be linked to the school.
“I offered to begin my speech with a disclaimer but they turned that down, too – twice.”
Finally, officials allowed him to do the speech, so long as he omitted the religious parts.
“I believe as a Christian we should respect the authority above us,” Blackledge said. “I told them I would not disrespect them. I told them I would respect their wishes. And I told them the reason why is because I’m a Christian.”
Upon learning of Blackledge’s ordeal, the First Liberty Institute legal group reached out to offer their services.
“School officials should remember that students retain their constitutional rights to freedom of expression from the schoolhouse gates, all the way through the graduation ceremony,” one of the First Liberty Institute’s attorneys, Jeremy Dys, said, according to Starnes.
“These school officials ruined the only high school graduation Sam will ever know,” Dys told Starnes. “How many more graduations have to be ruined before school officials will learn that the First Amendment protects student remarks at graduation?”